The format for the controversial EFL Trophy has been confirmed.
The former Johnstone’s Paint Trophy for League One and League Two clubs will this season include 16 category one academies in a 64-team competition, a plan which has been met with plenty of criticism.
It has been confirmed Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Newcastle United, Southampton, Stoke City, Sunderland, Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United have been invited to field sides in the competition with rules stating six of the starting 11 must be under 21 as of June 30.
The road to Wembley will begin with 16 regionalised groups of four, each of which will include at least one club from each of Leagues One and Two, along with one invited team, who will play one home game the club’s first team stadium.
The top two sides in each group will then go into a 32-team knockout stage with the final taking place on April 2.
Increased prize money is on offer with an expected £1.95m being up for grabs including £10,000 per win and £5,000 per draw during the group stage and £100,000 for the eventual winner.
EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey said: “The new format is intended to rejuvenate this competition and also assist the development of the very best young players in English football.
“This will help us deliver more and better home grown players which will deliver benefits to the national team and domestic league football at all levels.
“I believe this is the right time to pilot these changes to the EFL Trophy, which we will review at the end of the 2016/17 season following discussions with our clubs and having consulted with the other football bodies and supporter organisations.”
Campaign group Against League 3 (AL3) are amongst those to hit out at the plans, going as far as to lobby clubs to withdraw and asking fans to boycott games involving B teams.
Campaign manager James Cave said previously: “The EFL and its clubs are well aware football fans do not, and have never, supported these plans. AL3 has regularly canvassed supporters and sought their opinion, as have organisations like Supporters Direct.
“Our studies show over 75 per cent of lower league fans are against the implementation of B teams.
“Yet the B teams idea is a mere symptom of a far larger problem in English football: supporters are unrepresented by our FA, our leagues and often our clubs.”
Other plans for the competition include penalty shoot-outs for an extra point if group stage games end in a draw.
Group stage games will be played in the week commencing August 29, October 3 and November 7.
The date of the draw is to be confirmed.